Who better to chat with about the future of the green economy than Julie Mathers, the founder of Australia's largest 100% vegan and eco-friendly store, Flora and Fauna.
August 11, 2021
Tom Ferrier (00:04):
So great to have today the founder of Flora & Fauna, Julie Mathers, who's actually got the largest 100% vegan store that's a hundred percent carbon offset and also ships orders plastic-free. Who better to speak to about the green economy than Julie. Julie, welcome.
Julie Mathers (00:23):
Thank you so much for having me, I am absolutely delighted to be here and talking all things green.
Tom Ferrier (00:29):
Fantastic. Now, before we get to the green economy, you've obviously been in this space for so long and you've got what some would regard the world's most successful green store. What was that light bulb moment for you that went, "Hang on, climate change is a thing and I have to do something about it."
Julie Mathers (00:48):
Yeah. So, well, thank you for that. I kind of like that, the world's most successful green store, I'll take that. I've had various light bulb moments over the years. I think the one that just made me go, "Wow, we can really make a difference," was actually when we'd started Flora & Fauna. And we were sending out orders, and I think it was around June, I think it June 2016 and at that point, we were still sending orders in Australia, post satchels, cause we were sending hardly any orders. It was like 20 a week. It exciting for us, but were we that exciting? And it was honestly like a light bulb in my head because I just went, "What are we doing? We're just sending these plastic satchels out, that's ridiculous."
Julie Mathers (01:40):
And it was at that point that Plastic Free July was coming up and I just went, "Right, okay, for July, we're going to trial just sending in boxes without the plastic satchel. And I just went, "Oh, are they going to get wet? Are they going to get damaged?" No, none of the above. None of the above. So that was the light bulb moment for me within Flora & Fauna, which is when I went, "We can actually make a change here and a really big change and our customers and community want it. And we have a responsibility to do this and to really drive it."
Julie Mathers (02:16):
I look at Flora & Fauna and I go, "Everything we do, can we do it a better way? And if we can do it a better way, let's do so." And that's our mantra, that's what we do. It's just how we think. "Is there a better way of doing it?" And so if there is we'll crack on, "Let's do it." So yeah, so now we're, I think we've got something like 3,000 plastic free products on the site. There's just heaps of stuff, yeah.
Tom Ferrier (02:39):
That's fantastic. So a lot of people talk about being green, but there's no standard definition for what green is. What does being green mean to you?
Julie Mathers (02:48):
It's being conscious and treading lightly in every decision you make. So that could be from the moment you get up in the morning and the toothpaste you use on and the toothbrush you use through to how do you get yourself to work, what vehicle are you using? What food are you eating? What packaging it is? Who are you banking with? It's everything.
Tom Ferrier (03:17):
So let's shift gears a little bit and talk the green economy. Given what green is, what's a green economy in your mind?
Julie Mathers (03:24):
Well, the green economy, I think the green economy is absolutely crucial and something that needs to be disrupted. So at the moment, the economy is absolutely wrapped around the big banks. And if we look at the big banks and where the money goes, or et cetera, et cetera, a lot of it is going into industries like mining, which take away from our planet. And they're not enhances, they are drainers. So I look at the green economy and going, "Is your money being put to good use? Is it being put to good use in terms of renewable energy, in terms of carbon offsetting, in terms of communities?"
Tom Ferrier (04:13):
We know that the next generation is speaking in volumes around now about this, what could a green economy look like in just five years time?
Julie Mathers (04:22):
Well, I think this is where we will see a turning of the tide. We will see people spending their money with retailers like us. We will be mainstream because people want to be putting their money to good use. They will be banking with better banks. They will be making sure that whoever touches their money, the output of it is going to good use. So that's how I see it. So I see, and I hope for a real shift and flip on its head actually.
Tom Ferrier (05:02):
And given you and your business has been a real trailblazer in this space, what challenges do you see, I guess, that you've experienced or that other businesses trying to then lead the charge and become part of this grant economy, what challenges would they face in doing so?
Julie Mathers (05:17):
Well, okay. How controversial can I be?
Tom Ferrier (05:20):
Whatever you're willing to say publicly.
Julie Mathers (05:23):
I'm willing to say quite a lot. I think the reality is there's a few things, there's a few things that will challenge us. One is greenwashing. So because of not just us, but lots of businesses like us and customers really wanting to shop more responsibly, behave more responsibly, there's a lot of greenwashing that's happening with other businesses going, "Hey, kind of, "We do some green stuff here," but it's a bit smoke and mirrors. "Because we do some green stuff here, and hopefully that will divert away from all the other stuff we do here." So then it gets really, really confusing for people in terms of where do they shop? How do they spend their money? How do they invest?
Julie Mathers (06:14):
My super's with Australian Ethical super, and it comes down to things like that. So I think greenwashing will become more problematic because it just makes stuff more confusing for consumers. And I also think the reality is the big businesses, the big banks, the big retailers, government, they have very loud voices and very deep pockets. So you can be challenging, but you are going against the tide. We know we're going against the tide, that does not come without challenges.
Tom Ferrier (06:51):
So before we get to my favorite part, which is 60 seconds with Julie Mathers to really get to know you behind the scenes, I guess what I'd love to know is what's one action that normal businesses today, not super green ones, but what's one action businesses today can take to start spearheading their movement towards a greener economy?
Julie Mathers (07:10):
Cool. So I think the best action you can take is try and figure out the gap that you need to do. And by that, I actually think on the B Corp website, so we're a B Corp. Go on the B Corp website and take the, there's a questionnaire, take the questionnaire and figure out. By doing that questionnaire, you might not become a B Corp, that's fine, don't worry about that stuff. Don't worry about becoming a B Corp at all.
Julie Mathers (07:37):
The questionnaire almost helps you figure out what you are doing and what you aren't doing. And when I did that questionnaire, I just went, "Oh wow, I've got all this stuff that we could be doing." But it helps you figure out in your head as a business, the different component parts to being a green of business, which is packaging, which is your waste, people, what you pay them, community, blah, blah, blah. But it just helps you go through them. I think a lot of businesses will be surprised because they probably do a lot more than what they think.
Tom Ferrier (08:12):
Well, let's get into the depths of it, I want to know who you really are. So let's kick off 60 seconds with Julie Mathers. So Julie, when you were young, what did you want to be when you grow up?
Julie Mathers (08:23):
A vet. I wanted to be a vet at one point, but then I realized I couldn't put down animals. At one point I wanted to be a policewoman. At one point I wanted to be an actuary.
Tom Ferrier (08:37):
Julie Mathers (08:37):
Tom Ferrier (08:37):
Been all over the shelf. Biggest brush with fame?
Julie Mathers (08:40):
Really major brush with fame actually, and it happened very recently. Zac Efron came into Flora & Fauna.
Tom Ferrier (08:46):
What did he buy? You've got to tell us.
Julie Mathers (08:48):
Bought a lot of stuff actually. Bought some deodorant, he bought some, he spent a lot of money. You bought a lot of stuff. Yeah, deodorant, skincare. I helped him with a skincare regime.
Tom Ferrier (08:58):
What's his secret?
Julie Mathers (08:59):
He's incredibly good looking. He's got very good genetics. He is incredibly good looking.
Tom Ferrier (09:08):
Most played song on your Spotify playlist?
Julie Mathers (09:12):
Probably Ibiza 1994.
Tom Ferrier (09:14):
Who was your hero growing up and why?
Julie Mathers (09:17):
Hero? When I grew up, I didn't really have heroes. I had people who I thought, "Oh my God, you're amazing." Like, "New kids on the block." But I didn't really have a hero.
Tom Ferrier (09:30):
What's your super power in real life?
Julie Mathers (09:32):
My ability to work at a rate of knots.
Tom Ferrier (09:40):
And what's pet pave when someone does something that really frustrates you?
Julie Mathers (09:44):
Tom Ferrier (09:44):
Do you have a superstition?
Julie Mathers (09:46):
Yep, I do. Karma. I'm all about karma. Just be a good human.
Tom Ferrier (09:51):
Now, your favorite reality TV show?
Julie Mathers (09:54):
I'm currently watching Below Deck and I love it.
Tom Ferrier (09:56):
Who's your climate hero and why?
Julie Mathers (09:59):
Oh, Dr. Catherine Ball. She's amazing. She's a smart, smart cookie. And I think we need incredibly smart people to take us forward into the future because we need those smart people to come up with brilliant, innovative solutions.
Tom Ferrier (10:18):
What's important, a handful of people doing zero carbon perfectly or millions of people doing it imperfectly?
Julie Mathers (10:26):
Millions. We have to create change, and the only way we can do that is by the masses doing something. And that's just maths, right? The more people do a little bit is much better than a tiny, tiny amount of people doing a lot.
Tom Ferrier (10:42):
Well, Julie, thank you so much for sharing your deepest, darkest, and some of your happiest secrets. It's been great speaking to you today and learning more about what your thoughts are on the green economy.
Julie Mathers (10:52):
Pleasure, happy to be here.